A Review of Lightness at White Rainbow Gallery, London
In the studio adjacent to where I sit on my art course, there is a girl who continuously sews nylon stockings together, which she stuffs with wool. The result is an assortment of awkward shapes; lumpy, overstuffed curvy stocking sausages that she contorts into artworks. My tutor, a wise jaded old owl in his late sixties, informed me that he sees the same work with those same materials every year.
He explained that there are some materials with an inherent form and that no matter how hard us stubborn artists try, we just cannot separate the materials from their birthright. Soft materials are usually flexible and can be manipulated at the artist’s will, but the weight of a medium is always fixed. It is no wonder then that almost all of the Tights Girl's sculptures either hang from the ceiling or are pinned to the wall or suspended in some way. The tights cannot be denied their natural lightness, no matter how heavy you try and make them with a stuffing of…wool.
White Rainbow gallery has united five artists’ explorations of the notion of weightlessness, displaying how artists reconfigure material to distort their physical properties, or so their press release suggests.
The room is mostly filled with sculptural forms, except for a few wall-mounted works by artist duo Ittah Yoda that hang quietly triumphant behind their neighbours who, despite all their efforts, only seem to prove the rule that weight is an aspect that simply cannot be altered. Unless of course you use the wondrous moving image as your chosen medium.
Alexandra Navratil’s digital animation takes us through a surreal arrangement of shapes, configured so as to deny the viewer any sense of gravitational pull. Shadow, light and reflections are strategically positioned in unnatural places and we are guided through what appears to be an empty futuristic office block. Navratil uses a simple manipulation of our sense of perspective to concoct a tangible sense of weightlessness as we float through her world of glassy grey surfaces. The only side-effect is an induced feeling of anxiety since my gaze could not find any natural focus point. I spent several minutes darting my attention around the screen, only to retire with a newfound appreciation for gravity and corners.
Ittah Yoda’s rectangles lining the wall are composed of densely layered sport’s mesh, silicone, gel transfer medium, polyester and nylon. These pastel-hued works posing as canvases are the most intriguing on show and there is something, quite simply, airy about them. Despite their hermetically packaged presentation, the buoyancy inherent in their genetic makeup comes across to the naked eye and there is an overt display of craftsmanship in the gel-sealed seams and delicately fused edges.
Ironically, the most cumbersome pieces on display sit like defiant obstacles in the middle of the gallery and are by far the least arresting. Holly Hendry’s Gut Feelings: Oesophageal Block, looks like one of those children’s building puzzles at the Science Museum, only she too decided to employ pastel shades of peach and yellow for her monumental brick that includes a rawhide chew and gum wedged between segments of plaster, wood, jesmonite (a polymer based plaster) and cement. Unfortunately not even the trickery of colour is enough to counter the heavy symbolism associated with her chosen materials. The press release writes that Hendry brings together “disparate materials to reveal their soft side,” but the confused result only highlights the importance of form. I feel that if she was intent on creating an Oesophageal Block then sticking the gum and dog bone in some frozen jello might have been more effective. Similarly, Charles Harlan’s Turbine is an assortment of wood, stone and metal parts assembled on top of each other to produce something resembling a totem pole paying homage to the industrial revolution. The lesson is obvious; if you’re going to try and whisper a sense of weightlessness to the viewer, maybe cement and brick-like shapes should be avoided.
Lightness is an aesthetically pleasing, slow burning exhibition that is ultimately a showcase of innovation. Ittah Yoda and Alexandra Navratil’s works are evidence enough that if it looks feather-weighted, it probably is. Their peers too clearly display a clumsy attempt to prove the opposite. So as it turns out, old art professors really are all that wise, and our humble human abilities can do little to alter the perception of weight, although pastel hues can help.
Written by Hedy Mowinckel, a Contributor to Arteviste.